Khat is a amphetamine-like chewable that has been used in Yemen and other countries for centuries, but is illegal in most of the Western world.
For the first time in New York history, peddlers of a euphoria-inducing plant called khat will be sent to prison after three leaders of an international distribution ring cut plea deals, prosecutors said Thursday.
Khat kingpin Yadeta (Murad) Bekri, 24, will serve three years behind bars and his U.S.-based managers Ahmed Adem and Bayan Yusuf, both 32, will serve two years as part of an agreement with the state’s Attorney General.
They were charged with 14 others last June for running the global operation that imported khat mostly from Kenya and Ethiopia through UPS and stored it in Rochester, Brooklyn and Queens. It was then delivered to local distributors.
The amphetamine-like chewable has been used socially in Yemen and other countries for centuries, but is banned in most of the Western world.
"Khat is a dangerous and illegal drug with worldwide reach,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. "Today's guilty pleas demonstrate that those who flood our national and state borders with drugs will be brought to justice."
The three defendants pleaded guilty to attempted operating as a major trafficker and will be sentenced next month, officials said. Bekri, of England, whose Minnesotta-based girlfriend is accused of sending the ill-gotten proceeds back to him, will also have to pay $150,000 in restitution.
They were charged as part of a 215-count indictment. Cases are still pending against 13 codefendants and one other remains at large.
Users of khat chew the plant’s leaves and stems to get a high from the juice.
The substance is exotic enough that a Brooklyn judge who handled the indictment last summer didn’t hear of it before.